Christine, one of our Shout clinicians, has written some tips to help keep your self-esteem strong and healthy.
Last week I tried a little experiment. I challenged myself to count the number of times in one day I said to myself, “I’m not [blank] enough.” I thought I would say this at most once in a day. I thought I had a strong sense of self acceptance and expressed minimal negative self talk. At the end of the day I looked at my tally in shock. Here’s what I saw:
- Bailing on a walk with a friend because of the freezing weather equalled “I’m not reliable enough.”
- Taking a water break in the middle of my workout equalled, “I’m not motivated enough to get through the whole thing without stopping.”
- Looking at other people’s instagram photos equalled “I don’t have enough friends.”
- Complaining that my partner had to leave the country for a funeral equalled “I’m not a supportive enough partner.”
- Venting to my parents about my struggles with lockdown equalled “I’m not grateful enough.”
The list went on and on. When we let these, “I’m not enough” stories take over, a couple of troubling things happen:
First, we damage our connections with others. We may turn inwards and tell ourselves we don’t deserve good things in our lives because we aren’t enough. We may also blame others and lash out. For example, “only a bad friend wouldn’t respect me wanting to stay warm and skip the walk” or “instagram is all fake anyways I should delete it.” These reactions lead to fewer and poorer quality connections. This can be problematic because connections are a critical part of healthy coping. Connections help us find meaning and purpose in our lives.
What if instead we looked at our imperfections, our “not enoughs” in a different way.
Furthermore, these “I’m not enough” stories can stunt our growth and progress towards goals. When we hear these stories about not being enough over and over again we start to believe them. From there it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We may unconsciously work to affirm our “not enough” beliefs. We start to ignore positives, amplify negatives and behave in ways that don't contribute to progress and growth. For example, we may only notice the posts on social media where it looks like everyone else is surrounded by friends. We tell ourselves that will never be us and stop looking for new friendships all together. Or we may say “I can never make it through these workouts without taking a break, workouts aren’t for me I’m not going to do this anymore.”
What if instead we looked at our imperfections, our “not enoughs” in a different way. What if we viewed our imperfections as the very things that allow us to be vulnerable and that vulnerability helps us to connect with others. Being imperfect actually opens up space for connection and connection is fundamental to feeling good. Furthermore, these imperfections give us important data about where we have room to grow. How boring would life be if we nailed everything we tried? The imperfections show us an exhilarating path forward where we can set and reach goals and grow.
Celebrate the messiness and the failures along the way. You’re growing by trying.
Try these tips to help you use your imperfections to cultivate connection and growth rather than stop you in your tracks:
- Pick a mantra. It might sound corny but think of a phrase to repeat to yourself when you notice negative self-talk coming up. By stopping the negative self-talk in its tracks and replacing it with a positive mantra you can reprogram your automatic response. Consider something like, “My mistakes and failures make me stronger, braver, and wiser” or “I am enough, worthy of friendship and love, just as I am.”
- Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend. Picture saying some of the things we say to ourselves to a friend. Imagine telling a friend, “venting to your parents about lockdown just goes to show what a selfish ungrateful person you are.” Or, “you should just delete Instagram because you’re not having the most fun of anyone everyday.” We would never say these things to a friend so why would we say them to ourselves? Next time you catch yourself telling yourself that you’re not good enough, picture saying it to a friend. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, try reframing it in a kinder way to yourself.
- Build up the people around you. People with a healthy self-esteem can celebrate the accomplishments of others without damaging their own self-worth. It's okay if you still feel competitive or jealous when someone around you succeeds. That’s normal. It takes practice but you’ll notice the more you build up and celebrate those around you, the more the jealousy will start to go away over time. You’ll see you feel better when you build up those around you. Your own self-esteem will sky rocket.
- Take on a new challenge. Try something you think you’re terrible at. We all feel intimidated to do things at times. But explore what happens if you don’t let these feelings stop you from trying something new or taking on a challenge. Start super small and make a note of your progress every day. Some ideas: learn to juggle, learn to do a headstand, run a 5K, touch your toes or write a poem. Celebrate the messiness and the failures along the way. You’re growing by trying.
- Foster positive relationships. Take note of whether certain people in your life tend to bring you down. If you notice that certain people often bring you down ask yourself if you could minimise your time with them or tell them how you feel around them. Also take note of people who energise and build you up. Look for patterns in those relationships and seek those same qualities as you build new connections.
Remember that a strong self-esteem is not a fixed trait. We all have wobbles and feel bad about ourselves at times. By taking an active role in building your self-esteem with these tips you can start to feel a bit better and a bit more confident day by day. Celebrate and explore your imperfections, they are they very thing that will allow you to build deep and meaningful connections with others.
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